Zlatan Ibrahimovic has ‘minimum’ five or six years left, claims Raiola

Manchester United striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic has a “minimum” of five or six years left as a player, according to his agent Mino Raiola.

Ibrahimovic enjoyed a wonderful first season at United before suffering serious knee ligament damage in April, an injury which is expected to keep him out of action for the rest of the year.

Despite that setback and his lengthy rehabilitation, United opted to offer him a new one-year deal and it was confirmed in August that he was to remain at the club for this season.

Although it remains to be seen how the 36-year-old fares upon his return, Raiola is adamant that he could play into his 40s, before joking how they are going to change their relationship in terms of finances.

“He has so much in him,” Raiola told Expressen. “I think minimum another five or six years. I won’t let him stop, he has to work for me now.

“I have been working for him for several years, now it’s my turn. My children are grown up and I need money.

“We have agreed that he is only working for me for five years now. So we’re flipping it now. The salary comes to me and he gets the commission.”

Raiola expects to continue to have a close bond with Ibrahimovic when he does eventually retire, though he does not necessarily think the striker will make a particularly good coach.

“He will always be in my life if he is a football player, carpenter, investment banker, director or coach,” he added. “It does not matter. But f*ck, God help the one who gets him as a coach.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic at Europa League final

“I want to see the player saying Zlatan does not know what he is talking about. If there is a meeting when Zlatan finds someone who thinks he’s better than him, I want a hidden camera.”

United have not set a specific return date for Ibrahimovic, but Raiola is certain that he is making great progress, even claiming that Dr Freddie Fu – the doctor overseeing his rehab – wants to study his knee because it is ‘the best’ he has seen.

“Yes, they [medical scientists] want to [study his knee], Fu says so,” said Raiola.

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“He says he has never seen such a strong and pure knee after such a long career as Zlatan has. Imagine all the bangs [his knee has received].

“This is a professor who takes care of athletes from all over the world and works with an American football teams.

“He says he has never seen anything like 40 years. It’s the best knee he has ever seen. This damage would be Himalayan to many, but to Zlatan it’s a small hill. He will be back soon.”

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Everton v Arsenal Betting: Action at both ends as Koeman reaches potential D-Day

Arsenal will be looking to bounce back from their shock defeat at Watford when they travel to Goodison Park to take on Everton in Sunday’s Premier League clash.

Having recorded a late 1-0 Europa League victory over Crvena Zvezda on Thursday thanks to Olivier Giroud’s wonderful goal, the Gunners are priced at even odds (2.00) with SportPesa to also return to winning ways in the league on Merseyside.

Meanwhile, Ronald Koeman’s men fell to a 2-1 defeat at home to Lyon in their European outing, but are on offer at 14/5 (3.80) to pull off a morale-boosting victory against their high profile opponents.

HD Ronald Koeman Everton Europa League

None of the last six encounters between these sides have resulted in draws, however you can get odds of 51/20 (3.55) on them playing out a stalemate in this one.

Coming after a run of four consecutive clean sheets where they only dropped points in a goalless draw away at Chelsea, the Watford defeat was a major blow to Arsene Wenger’s team.

Strangely enough, that stalemate at Stamford Bridge is the only point they have claimed in four matches away from home this season, with 10 of their last 16 league fixtures on the road resulting in defeat.

Everton Arsenal graphic

In fact, only Crystal Palace have conceded more goals away from home in the Premier League since the start of 2017 than Arsenal, meaning the Toffees should fancy their chances of finding some joy in attack.

However, having only kept one clean sheet in an EFL Cup clash against Sunderland in their last 11 fixtures, the hosts are unlikely to prove particularly sturdy at the back themselves.

Therefore, odds of 4/5 (1.80) seem generous on at least three goals being scored for the seventh time in nine encounters between these sides, as well as Everton’s sixth game in seven in front of their own fans.

Over 2.5 goals for a 2pt stake at 4/5 (1.80) with SportPesa

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Why Jack Wilshere has the ‘cojones’ Arsenal need to succeed

It was four years to the day on Thursday since Jack Wilshere linked up with Olivier Giroud for the quintessential ‘Wengerball’ goal against Norwich.

The delicate, one-touch move was the kind of goal Arsene Wenger has dreamt about for years and one which should have propelled the England midfielder to stardom for both club and country. Wilshere ran the Arsenal midfield when he first broke through into the team and if it wasn’t for a series of reoccurring injuries and an unfortunate leg break, he would have almost certainly been a regular fixture in the centre of midfield for Wenger’s men.

Arsenal 17/2 to beat Everton 2-0

Wilshere’s second half performance against Red Star Belgrade on Thursday brought back memories of the youngster who dominated in midfield against Xavi and Iniesta in 2011. The 25-year-old played an integral part in Arsenal’s victory amid the hostile surroundings of the Ratjko Mitic Stadium, once again proving that he’s ready to play regularly for Arsenal in the Premier League and not solely figure in the European competition which has been used to give fringe players a first team opportunity.

Wilshere

Despite a difficult first half in which Wilshere was forced to drift wide at times, he took the second half by the scruff of the neck and performed outstandingly to create space for himself, turning past two players to grab a pre-assist for Olivier Giroud’s spectacular overhead kick winner. He drew plaudits from Martin Keown and Jermaine Jenas before the game, with the latter labelling Wilshere as ‘Arsenal’s best midfielder’ alongside silky Spaniard Santi Cazorla.

“It’s the brilliance of Wilshere, punching a hole in midfield, seeing what mere mortals can only dream of,” Keown told BT Sport. “It’s a platform for Wilshere to prove fitness and ability. The saying behind scenes is that Jack is playing better than ever in training.”

Indeed, the Europa League and Carabao Cup represent two platforms on which Wilshere can prove himself to Wenger and the Arsenal supporters. It could have been very different if the manager let him leave in the summer when the likes of Sampdoria and AC Milan came calling, yet the resolution to keep him may be one of the most important decisions of Wenger’s career so far.

Wilshere is best utilised behind a forward player in the No.10 role, where Mesut Ozil currently plays for Arsenal. There is widespread competition for places in attack at Arsenal and the likes of Alex Iwobi, Theo Walcott and Danny Welbeck are all fighting to get a starting spot alongside the likes of Ozil and the wantaway Alexis Sanchez. Despite the options, last Saturday’s 2-1 defeat to Watford reminded everyone of Arsenal’s vulnerabilities in defence and central midfield.

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“As a player, if your attitude is questioned, it’s horrible,” Wilshere said ahead of Arsenal’s Europa League clash with Red Star. “I look around this team and you can’t question our character. People try and put us down, they always have. I don’t think the comments were justified.”

And that’s one facet of Wilshere’s game you cannot say he doesn’t possess – character. When he has the ball you can guarantee he’ll attempt to take players on. Always looking forwards, forever trying to make something happen – there’s something endearing about Wilshere which makes him a fans favourite wherever he goes. The loan spell at Bournemouth didn’t end up being as fruitful as it could have been, yet it showed that he’s a player who is willing to step out of his comfort zone to get back to his best.

With the 2018 World Cup approaching, Wilshere needs to play regularly at the highest level and his performances of late are increasing his chances of being included in Gareth Southgate’s England squad. For now, it’s time for the Hitchin-born midfielder to maintain his fitness and continue to produce consistent performances for the team that he loves so dearly.

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Why a Kane, Lukaku or classic No.9 wouldn’t work for Liverpool

Pep Guardiola delivered it as a compliment to a striker proving himself one of the game’s premier finishers, but Mauricio Pochettino deemed it disrespectful towards Tottenham.

When the Manchester City manager chose to describe the north Londoners as the “Harry Kane team”, he felt he was saluting the England international’s exceptional goalscoring form, but the Argentine was offended and his irritation was understandable.

Spurs 8/1 to beat Liverpool 2-1

Harry Kane Tottenham

Spurs are not all about the 24-year-old; they are progressive, well-coached, uncharitable in defence, possess incredible balance, have a clear identity, can count on the creativity of Christian Eriksen, are the envy of many for having Dele Alli and the list goes on…

But there is no denying that they are heavily reliant on Kane – he is responsible for 50 per cent of his side’s combined goals this term in the Premier League and Champions League.

As the forward prepares to counter the trend of failing to find the net in his top-flight appearances at home against Liverpool, plenty will be wondering if Sunday’s opponents would be better off if they had him or another classic No.9 – like Romelu Lukaku – up front, rather than Roberto Firmino.

Jurgen Klopp certainly won’t be among those. The Merseysiders have purposefully moved away from being overly dependent on one player in attack, having learnt from leaning too much on Daniel Sturridge in the past, only to look completely defunct in his absences through injury.

HD Roberto Firmino main

There is more collective responsibility in front of the sticks for Liverpool, domestically and on the continent: Mohamed Salah has contributed 30% of their goals, Firmino 22%, Philippe Coutinho 17%, with Sadio Mane on 13%.

Salah 13/8 to score v Spurs

Guardiola couldn’t refer to the Reds by singling out a player and, in fact, his assessment of them has been glowing: “They attack the back four with so many players, from almost anywhere on the pitch. They have an intensity with the ball and without the ball, and it is not easy to do that. I don’t think there is another team in the world attacking in this way with so many players capable of launching moves in an instant.”

Even following City’s 5-0 victory in September, aided by Mane’s 37th-minute red card at the Etihad, the Spaniard admitted: “At 11 v 11, the game was equal. They attacked a lot in the channels with runs in behind. They are so fast with Mane and Salah. They have top, top players and, with Roberto Firmino and his quality, they created problems.”

Liverpool are able to swarm and overwhelm opponents precisely because of their forward options – they are fluid, complement each other and are proactive. They make things happen rather than wait for moments to affect the game.

Roberto Firmino Sadio Mane Mohamed Salah

With all the talk of the club needing a classic No.9, it has perhaps evaded the memory that they attempted to go the traditional route in recent years with no great success.

Andy Carroll arrived in January 2011 for £35 million – a club-record fee that was only surpassed with the purchase of Salah this summer – touted as England’s next great centre-forward.

Rickie Lambert joined from Southampton three years ago on the back of a fine 2013-14 campaign in which only Luis Suarez, Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney had matched him in recording double figures for both goals and assists.

Mario Balotelli was signed in the same window and, while his previous behavioural problems may have marked him out as a risk, he had the very traits many external voices felt Liverpool needed to deal with deep defences.

Then, in July 2015, Brendan Rodgers succumbed to ‘Plan B’ pressures and veered from his blueprint to make Christian Benteke the main man at Anfield in a squad that was stylistically at odds with the Belgian’s strengths.

None of these additions – all different but essentially more classical candidates to lead the line – worked because they altered the very essence of the fluent, fast, assertive football the club subscribes to and their core players are geared for.

GFX Roberto Firmino

“We are not a team that can play with a striker who scores a goal but is not involved in the game for the other 89 minutes,” Klopp said of Benteke, now at Crystal Palace, after he struck the winner against Leicester in December 2016. “We need the striker for the other options, too – to work for the other minutes.”

That summary is exactly why Firmino – who joined Liverpool 16 days before Benteke as a compromise so the transfer committee and manager could get their respective priority targets – is so difficult to usurp as the reference point for the club’s attack.

He is always an option, is primed to steal possession, creates space effortlessly and is cerebral.

“With Roberto Firmino, people say he does not score enough,” a bewildered Klopp told Goal in pre-season. “What?! He is the best player without scoring with how well he reads the game for the benefit of others. Outstanding!”

Those who choose to view the Brazil international solely through the goals column misunderstand his role and Liverpool’s template. He is their “important player, connecting player, finisher, fighter and first defender.”

Romelu Lukaku, Roberto Firmino split

Firmino has netted six goals for Liverpool this season, with three assists. In the top flight and Champions League, he has carved out 22 chances, had 482 touches, made 166 final-third passes and contributed 11 tackles – bar successful strikes, he outperforms Kane, Lukaku and Chelsea’s Alvaro Morata at everything else.

His job is not just to find the back of the net, but to ensure those around him do too. He is not just offensive; he has to be obstructive from the front.

Prior to Tuesday’s 7-0 annihilation of Maribor, the discussion around Liverpool requiring a 25-goal striker was amplified as they created much but converted little during a run of one victory in eight games.

James Milner Roberto Firmino Philippe Coutinho Liverpool Maribor

Robbie Fowler, who netted 183 for the Anfield side to put him sixth in their all-time most prolific list, labelled such a narrative “fashionable”.

He felt the theme had swung from a vulnerable defence to the decision not to sign a certified scoring machine purely based on results rather than performances and the fact that his former club were doing everything but apply the finishing touch to their otherwise positive play.

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Forwards go through these periods – as Kane himself has experienced in the month of August where 13 league appearances and 44 shots have rendered zero goals – so Fowler was convinced “it will definitely turn” and “pretty soon, I think we’ll be talking about the good things Liverpool are doing and how great they are going forward as opposed to ‘oh, they’ve created so much again without scoring enough.’”

The attacking rebirth arrived at Maribor and will need to continue against Tottenham and beyond. Of the last 25 goals scored in league games between Liverpool and Spurs, 21 have come from the Reds.

You don’t need a traditional centre-forward to be exceptional in attack, you need the right fit: Kane and Lukaku are quintessential for their respective clubs but Firmino is too.

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Betting: Back Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur in a boosted North London double on Sunday

With European football happening this week, the Sunday games in the Premier League are suddenly more attractive than they have been in recent history.

Although Southampton and Newcastle surprisingly played out an entertaining 2-2 draw on the south coast last weekend, the final day of this coming weekend sees Merseyside take on North London as Everton host Arsenal before Liverpool travel to Tottenham.

To celebrate what should be two good games, dabblebet is offering an enhanced double of 7/2 (4.50), boosted from 3/1 (4.0), on both the Gunners and Spurs claiming victory.

Harry Kane Harry Winks Tottenham

The first match sees Arsenal looking to bounce back after collapsing to a 2-1 defeat at Watford in their last Premier League match, although beating Crvena Zvezda 1-0 in the Europa League will have done wonders for their confidence.

Arsene Wenger’s men can be backed outright at 21/20 (2.05) as they aim to win their sixth match from their last seven in all competitions.

Everton, meanwhile, are struggling on all fronts as Ronald Koeman hangs by a thread after the Toffees fell 2-1 to Lyon on Thursday, making it just two wins in their last 12 in all competitions – a run that sees them dangerously flirting with the relegation zone.

North London double graphic

In the second game, Spurs – favourites for this match at 5/4 (2.25) – have largely struggled at home this season but beat Bournemouth last Saturday for their first win at Wembley, and they will also be buoyed by their 1-1 draw at Real Madrid in midweek.

Harry Kane has never beaten Liverpool in the Premier League – the only side he has played against in the top flight and failed to claim three points against – so will be out looking to rectify that and continue his side’s title charge.

Therefore, dabblebet’s boosted price of 7/2 (4.50) – enhanced from 3/1 (4.0) – looks excellent value as the scrap for next season’s Champions League continues.

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Arsenal and Spurs both to win this weekend – enhanced to 7/2 (4.50) from 3/1 (4.0) by dabblebet

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